|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
The author is now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website. The ownership and copyright remain hers and no part of this thesis may be used elsewhere without her express permission.
CHAPTER EIGHT THE MODERN PERIOD
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This brings us on into the modern period, but before we can look at this, we need to trace some of the cultural changes that lie behind the quickening of interest in vegetarianism during the early 1970s. The most important factor here is the counter culture.
THE COUNTER CULTURE
Current thinking has tended to play down the significance of that late sixties effervescence, and to regard it more in the nature of a media bubble than the serious cultural challenge that it was claimed at the time to be. This judgement has force, particularly with regard to Britain, which lacked the real bite of issues like the Vietnam War and the campus upheavals. The central themes of the counter culture also have deeper roots in American culture. (Indeed in this period the major influence on British vegetarianism is once again American).
Though the counter culture may have had little chance of achieving the radical upheaval of western culture that its critique implied, lacking as it did any concrete means for the realisation of this potential as against the massive Institutional entrenchment of the prevailing system, as a movement of Ideas, its influence should not be underestimated.
Much writing on the counter culture has struggled unproductively with the definition, though Roezak, whose book, The Making of the Counter Culture, helped to crystalise the consciousness of the phenomenon, does not define the counter culture so much as chart its major preoccupations. Westhues' book exemplifies the difficulties. (1) His attempt at an analytical definition that goes beyond the particular historical configurations of the late sixties, leads to an undue emphasis, shared in much of the American literature, on sectarian separateness, and to a lumping together as counter to the dominant modes of society movements that are best appreciated as dissimilar. (2) Though the counter culture does pick up a number of long established strands of social criticism, and these Ideas are rightly seen as being at war with certain dominant modes of thought, Westhues and others give them too singular a position in regarding them as the 'shadow that follows a rational society around'. (3) The counter culture is better seen as a more specific set of ideas than this simple duality would suggest, and certainly more specific in its mixture of ideas and its social milieu. (4) The counter culture is not a word that bears great analytic weight, and I intend here therefore to use it in the local and broadly substantive sense that it is used in ordinary language, relating to certain events and ideas of the sixties and seventies.
The ideas of the counter culture are today still widely familiar, and I shall therefore look only briefly at what was one central theme: the attack on science and technology and their effects on consciousness. (5) At the heart of the ideas of the counter culture is a protest against what was perceived as the diminishing of man's spirit - what Roszak calls the 'shrivelling away of the self' and the loss of vision that derives from the expulsion of the transcendent from the world. In this diminishing of man, technological values and scientific rationality, the basis of modern society, are the principal culprits. Science values the separation of the observer from the observed, and it is this that fractures the experience of life, and makes us look on the world – and indeed on ourselves, for the objective consciousness of science has been extended through sociology and psychology and their popularisation to man and to the experience of the self - with a coldness and abstraction that impoverishes our being and leads both to the careless destruction of the natural world and to the creation of a society unable to satisfy the deeper human needs. Modern consciousness, according to Roszak, teaches us to 'distrust what is impulsive and warmly personal; and to replace it with the once-removed and coldly other’. (6) The drive for technological mastery has produced a controlled, artificial environment, packaged and purified; an over-controlled world where people are alienated from their true feelings and deeper needs, and where the only problems that are recognised are those amenable to technological solutions and judgeable by the criteria of efficiency.
Instead of rationalistic objectivity, the counter culture valued the subjective, the emotional and the intuitive. It was concerned with the expansion of consciousness, with the exploration of feelings and of religious modes of being, and with the spontaneous, total response.
Distaste for the alienating knowledge of science sometimes resulted in a celebration of the consciously anti-rational – the occult, the magical and the mystic - and even in attempts to destroy rational consciousness itself as in some versions of western Zen. At times there is an almost conscious pursuit of credulity and a wilful suspension of disbelief in the cultivation of deviant forms of explanation. Sometimes these are used to attack the rationality of science; thus dowsing is described as a ' "Paradigm smasher" [note the social-science background] that challenges the arrogance and exclusivity of "scientism" ', and offers the possibility of 'magical technologies'. (7) More commonly the rejection of science exists at the level of rhetoric, and it is more a question of a commitment to an additional reality beyond and different from that pursued by western science.
Part of the rejection of science was concerned with the re-assertion of the sense of wonder in nature; nature exists at levels beyond our understanding, levels that touch on the transcendent and command almost religious awe. Hand in hand with this restoration of wonder to nature goes a similar restoration of it to man, now freed from the alienating models of behaviourism or social science or technological manipulation, and endowed instead with the knowledge of the poets and mystics.
Various accounts, mainly contemporaneous, have been offered for the counter culture, none of them altogether satisfactory. Those that employ ideas of a culture in crisis fail to show that the sixties were indeed such a turning point, while others that point to changed child-rearing patterns and to a resultant conflict between young adults socialised according to a personal model and the structures of the public world, especially those of work, or to the inherent contradictions of a society formed around hedonism and self expression, (8) while they may have weight in terms of long-term changes in consciousness, fail to explain the particular events of the sixties and, above all, their demise in the late seventies.
Dates are important here. There are significant differences between the radical, progressive underground of the sixties and the softer alternative scene of the seventies. Nature and the natural are a crucial division. In the sixties the mood was libertarian, affluent, young; it was an iconoclastic, throw-away culture, well captured in Jeff Nuttal's book Bomb Culture. It was after the 1968 date that is conventionally identified as the apogee of the counter culture, that the mood changed and quietened: the later counter culture is less apocalyptic and visionary; less interested in the positive exploration of madness and excess; less concerned with antinomian freedom; and it is in the seventies that the movements that link with vegetarianism - holistic medicine, New Age consciousness, personal growth, the women's movement, food co-operatives - emerge, and that vegetarianism itself becomes a significant phenomenon. This shift is sometimes regarded as a retreat into personal and rural concerns after the failure of the revolutionary hopes of '68. While such a shift towards the local and the achievable can be discerned, to regard the period simply as post counter cultural is mistaken. The seventies saw a much wider dissemination of the central ideas of the counter culture: the effervescence was over, but the influence continued. Furthermore, counter-cultural Ideas, though they seemed in the sixties uncompromisingly total in their scope and demands, have proved themselves to be, once their revolutionary potential was defused, fully congruent with middle-class, highly rational-bureaucratic modes of life; as Heelas and others have pointed out, wholeness can be pursued as a leisure-time interest. (9)
There are perhaps some parallels in this two-part effect with the situation in the first half of the nineteenth century when the vegetarian phase again seemed to occur after an initial upsurge of Romanticist political aspiration. Once again in its connections with the gentler, less frenzied stage, it demonstrates vegetarianism's enduring link with the 'lighter' side of that Romanticist set of ideas.
In the counter culture’s development, the relative affluence of the sixties is clearly a factor. This made possible especially among students - a key group in the spread of these ideas – a relative unconcern about future jobs or the need for careers. Affluence gave a confident basis for their belief in the unimportance of material things. It also provoked from the excesses of consumer production, a new interest in frugality and the virtues of low consumption. The growing economic crisis of the late seventies, however, produced an impatience or nervousness in the face of claims for the end of the work ethic or the destruction of technological production, and. the cold economic climate of the eighties further contributed to its demise.
Lastly there is an important generational aspect. The counter culture itself ages, so that by the mid and late seventies its main proponents were no longer the student young but those in their late twenties and early thirties. Some of the shifts of emphasis of the seventies - the growth movement, the concern of healthy living and the more domestic tone generally - bear the mark of this older social base.
The 1970s saw the rise of a series of movements influenced by the counter culture – alternative medicine, the women's movement, Indian spirituality etc - all with vegetarian associations. The general impact of the counter culture in the seventies also reached wider sections of society than those conventionally identified as counter cultural or alternative, and the broad diffusion of its ideas was vital in creating an interested and more receptive climate of opinion among the otherwise more orthodox. The counter culture in many senses set up the cultural logic of the seventies.
But before we can examine the rise of these associated movements, we must look at the situation of vegetarianism more narrowly.